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Video and PC game soundtracks for download

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Video game music

Video game music is the soundtrack that accompanies video games. Early video game music was once limited to simple melodies of early sound synthesizer technology. These limitations inspired the style of music known as chiptunes, which combines simple melodic styles with more complex patterns or traditional music styles, and became the most popular sound of the first video games.

With advances in technology, video game music has grown to include the same breadth and complexity associated with television and film scores, allowing for much more creative freedom. While simple synthesizer pieces are still common, game music now includes full orchestral pieces and popular music. Music in video games can be heard over a game’s title screen, menus, as well as during gameplay. Game soundtracks can also change depending on a player’s actions or situation, such as indicating missed actions in rhythm games, informing the player they are in a dangerous situation or rewarding them for certain achievements

Video game music can be one of two options: original or licensed. In order to create or collect this music, teams of composers, music directors, and music supervisors must work with the game developers and game publishers. The popularity of video game music has expanded education and job opportunities, generated awards, and allowed video game soundtracks to be commercially sold and performed in concerts.

Many games for the Nintendo Entertainment System and other early game consoles feature a similar style of musical composition that is sometimes described as the “video game genre.” Some aspects of this style continue to influence certain music today, though gamers do not associate many modern game soundtracks with the older style.

The genre’s compositional elements largely developed due to technological restraints, while also being influenced by electronic music bands, particularly Yellow Magic Orchestra (YMO), who were popular during the late 1970s to 1980s. YMO sampled sounds from several classic arcade games in their early albums, most notably Space Invaders in the 1978 hit song “Computer Game“. In turn, the band would have a major influence on much of the video game music produced during the 8-bit and 16-bit eras.

Features of the video game music genre include:

  • Pieces designed to repeat indefinitely, rather than having an arranged ending or fading out (they however create an atmosphere, especially in important scenes of the game. They introduce a philosophical dimension in the game, as they may introduce questioning in the mind of players, in relationship with their next action).
  • Pieces lacking lyrics and playing over gameplay sounds.
  • Limited polyphony. Only three notes can be played simultaneously on the Nintendo Entertainment System. A great deal of effort was put into composition to create the illusion of more notes playing at once.

Although the tones featured in NES music can be thought of emulating a traditional four-piece rock band (triangle wave used as a bass, two pulse waves analogous to two guitars, and a white noise channel used for drums), composers would often go out of their way to compose complex and rapid sequences of notes, in part due to the restrictions mentioned above. This is similar to music composition during the Baroque period, when composers, particularly when creating solo pieces, focused on musical embellishments to compensate for instruments such as the harpsichord that do not allow for expressive dynamics.

For the same reason, many early compositions also feature a distinct jazz influence. These would overlap with later influences from heavy metal and j-pop music, resulting in an equally distinct compositional style in the 16-bit era.

In an unrelated but parallel course in the European and North American developer scene, similar limitations were driving the musical style of home computer games. Module file format music, particularly MOD, used similar techniques but was more heavily influenced from the electronic music scene as it developed, and resulted in another very distinct subgenre. Demos and the developing demoscene played a big part in the early years, and still influence video game music today.

As technological limitations gradually lifted, composers were given more freedom and with the advent of CD-ROM pre-recorded soundtracks came to dominate, resulting in a noticeable shift in composition and voicing style. Popular early CD-ROM titles were released with high-resolution graphics and recorded music. Since the audio was not reliant on a sound-card’s synthesis, CD-ROM technology ensured that composers and sound designers could know what audio would sound like on most consumer configurations and could also record sound effects, live instruments, vocals, and in-game dialogue.

As the divisions between movies and video games has blurred, so have divisions between film scores and video game scores. Adventure and fantasy movies have similar needs to adventure and fantasy games, i.e. fanfare, traveling, hero’s theme and so on. Some composers have written scores in both genres. One noted example is U.S. composer Michael Giacchino who composed the soundtrack for the game Medal of Honor and later composed for the television series Lost and wrote scores for movies such as The Incredibles (2004) and Star Trek (2009).

Public performance

Many original composers have publicly exhibited their music through symphonic concert performances. Once again, Koichi Sugiyama was the first to execute this practice in 1987 with his “Family Classic Concert” and has continued these concert performances almost annually. In 1991, he also formed a series called Orchestral Game Music Concerts, notable for featuring other talented game composers such as Yoko Kanno (Nobunaga’s Ambition, Romance of the Three Kingdoms, Uncharted Waters), Nobuo Uematsu (Final Fantasy), Keiichi Suzuki (Mother/Earthbound), and Kentaro Haneda (Wizardry).

Following suit, compositions by Nobuo Uematsu on Final Fantasy IV were arranged into Final Fantasy IV: Celtic Moon, a live performance by string musicians with strong Celtic influence recorded in Ireland. The Love Theme from the same game has been used as an instructional piece of music in Japanese schools.

With the success of Square‘s 1990s games Final Fantasy VI, Final Fantasy VII and Final Fantasy VIII by Nobuo Uematsu, and Chrono Trigger, Xenogears and Chrono Cross by Yasunori Mitsuda, public performance began to gain international popularity. On August 20, 2003, music written for video games such as Final Fantasy and The Legend of Zelda was performed for the first time outside Japan, by the Czech National Symphony Orchestra in a Symphonic Game Music Concert in Leipzig, Germany at the Gewandhaus concert hall. This event was held as the official opening ceremony of Europe’s biggest trading fair for video games, the GC Games Convention and repeated in 2004, 2005, 2006 and 2007.

On November 17, 2003, Square Enix launched the Final Fantasy Radio on America Online. The radio station has initially featured complete tracks from Final Fantasy XI and Final Fantasy XI: Rise of Zilart and samplings from Final Fantasy VII through Final Fantasy X.

The first officially sanctioned Final Fantasy concert in the United States was performed by the Los Angeles Philharmonic Orchestra at Walt Disney Concert Hall in Los Angeles, California, on May 10, 2004. All seats at the concert were sold out in a single day. “Dear Friends: Music from Final Fantasy” followed and was performed at various cities across the United States. Nobuo Uematsu has also performed a variety of Final Fantasy compositions live with his rock band, The Black Mages.

On July 6, 2005, the Los Angeles Philharmonic Orchestra also held a Video Games Live concert at the Hollywood Bowl, an event founded by video game music composers Tommy Tallarico and Jack Wall. This concert featured a variety of video game music, ranging from Pong to Halo 2. It also incorporated real-time video feeds that were in sync with the music, as well as laser and light special effects. Media outside the video game industry, such as NPR and The New York Times, have covered their subsequent world tours.

On August 20, 2006, the Malmö Symphonic Orchestra with host Orvar Säfström performed the outdoor game music concert Joystick in Malmö, Sweden before an audience of 17,000, holding the current record of attendance for a game music concert. Säfström has since continued to produce game music concerts around Europe under the names Joystick and Score.

From April 20–27, 2007, Eminence Symphony Orchestra, an orchestra dedicated to video game and anime music, performed the first part of their annual tour, the “A Night in Fantasia” concert series in Australia. Whilst Eminence had performed video game music as part of their concerts since their inception, the 2007 concert marked the first time ever that the entire setlist was pieces from video games. Up to seven of the world’s most famous game composers were also in attendance as special guests. Music performed included Red Alert 3 Theme: Soviet March by James Hannigan and Shadow of the Colossus by Kow Otani.

Since 2010, video games-themed “pops” concerts have become a major proportion of the revenue in many United States concert halls, as traditional classical music performances decline in popularity.

On March 16, 2012 the Smithsonian American Art Museum‘s “The Art of Video Games” exhibit opened featuring a chipmusic soundtrack at the entrance by artists 8 Bit Weapon & ComputeHer. 8 Bit Weapon also created a track called “The art of Video Games Anthem” for the exhibit as well.

In popular music

See also: Chiptune and Bitpop

In the popular music industry, video game music and sounds have appeared in songs by various popular artists. Arcade game sounds had a particularly strong influence on the hip hop, pop music (particularly synthpop) and electro music genres during the golden age of arcade video games in the early 1980s. Arcade game sounds had an influence on synthpop pioneers Yellow Magic Orchestra, who sampled Space Invaders sounds in their influential 1978 debut album, particularly the hit song “Computer Game“. In turn, the band would have a major influence on much of the video game music produced during the 8-bit and 16-bit eras.

Other pop songs based on Space Invaders soon followed, including “Disco Space Invaders” (1979) by Funny Stuff, “Space Invaders” (1980) by Playback, and the hit songs “Space Invader” (1980) by The Pretenders and “Space Invaders” (1980) by Uncle Vic. Buckner & Garcia produced a successful album dedicated to video game music in 1982, Pac-Man Fever. Former YMO member Haruomi Hosono also released a 1984 album produced entirely from Namco arcade game samples entitled Video Game Music, an early example of a chiptune record and the first video game music album. Warp‘s record “Testone” (1990) by Sweet Exorcist sampled video game sounds from YMO’s “Computer Game” and defined Sheffield’s bleep techno scene in the early 1990s.

More recently, “video game beats” have appeared in popular songs such as Kesha‘s “Tik Tok“, the best-selling single of 2010, as well as “U Should Know Better” by Robyn featuring Snoop Dogg, and “Hellbound” by Eminem. The influence of video game music can also be seen in contemporary electronica music by artists such as Dizzee Rascal and Kieran Hebden. Grime music in particular samples sawtooth wave sounds from video games which were popular in East London. English power metal band DragonForce is also known for their “retro video game influenced” sound.

Video game music education

Video game music has become part of the curriculum at the degree, undergraduate, and graduate levels in many traditional colleges and universities. According to the Entertainment Software Association, there are over 400 schools offering courses and degrees in video game design in the United States, many of which include sound and music design. Berklee College of Music, Yale University, New York University, and the New England Conservatory have all introduced game music into their music programs. These programs offer immersive education in music composition, orchestration, editing and production.

Other post-secondary schools have more games-focused programs, such as DigiPen Institute of Technology, Columbia College Chicago, and Academy of Art University, who all offer programs in Music and Sound Design. These programs include courses in sound effect creation, interactive sound design, and scripting music.

Similar programs have gained popularity in Europe. The Utrecht School of the Arts (Faculty of Art, Media and Technology) has offered a Game Sound and Music Design program since 2003. The University of Hertfordshire has a program in Music Composition and Technology for Film and Games, Leeds Beckett University offers Sound and Music for Interactive Games, and dBs Music Bristol teaches Sound for Games and Apps.

More informal institutions, like the training seminars at GameSoundCon also feature classes in how to compose video game music.

Extracurricular organizations devoted to the performance of video game music have also been implemented in tandem with these new curriculum programs. The Gamer Symphony Orchestra at the University of Maryland performs self-arranged video game music and the Video Game Orchestra is a semiprofessional outgrowth of students from the Berklee College of Music and other Boston-area schools.

According to the National Association for Music Education, video game music is now being taught at elementary and secondary school levels to aid in the understanding of music composition. Students at Magruder High School in Montgomery County, Maryland have even started a student-run gamer orchestra, and many high school bands perform game music.

Academic study

Academic research on video game music began in the late 1990s, and developed through the mid 2000s. Early research on the topic often involved historical studies of game music, or comparative studies of video game music and film music (see, for instance, Zach Whalen’s article “Play Along – An Approach to Videogame Music” which includes both). The study of video game music is also known by some as “ludomusicology” — a portmanteau of “ludology” (the study of games and gameplay) and “musicology” (the study and analysis of music) — a term coined independently by Guillaume Laroche and Roger Moseley.

A prominent figure in early video game music and audio research is Karen Collins, who is associate professor at the University of Waterloo and Canada Research Chair in Interactive Audio at the University of Waterloo Games Institute. Her monograph ‘Game Sound: An Introduction to the History, Theory and Practice of Video Game Music and Sound Design’ (MIT Press 2008) is considered a seminal work in the field, and was influential in the subsequent development of video game music studies.

The Ludomusicology Research Group is an inter-university research organisation focusing on the study of music in games, music games and music in video game culture, composed of four researchers: Michiel Kamp, Tim Summers, Melanie Fritsch, and Mark Sweeney. Together they organise an annual international conference held in the UK or Europe (at the time of writing, the most recent was the Ludo2017 conference held at Bath Spa University).

The group was founded by Kamp, Summers and Sweeney in August 2011, who have also edited a collection of essays based around the study of game sound entitled Ludomusicology: Approaches to Video Game Music, published in July 2016. They also edited a double special issue of The Soundtrack and initiated a new book series for the Study in Game Sound and Music in 2017.

In September 2016, Tim Summers’ book ‘Understanding Video Game Music’ was published by Cambridge University Press. Fritsch officially joined the group in 2016. She had edited the 2nd issue of the online journal ACT – Zeitschrift für Musik und Performance, published in July 2011, which included ludomusicological contributions written by Tim Summers, Steven B. Reale and Jason Brame. She had been a regular at the conferences since 2012 and published several book chapters on the topic. Whereas Kamp, Summers and Sweeney have a background in musicology, Fritsch’s background is in performance studies.

The North American Conference on Video Game Music (NACVGM) is an international conference on video game music held annually in North America since 2014. It is organised by Neil Lerner, Steven Beverburg Reale and William Gibbons.

In late 2016 the Society for the Study of Sound and Music in Games (SSSMG) was launched by the Ludomusicology Research Group in conjunction with the organisers of the North American Conference on Video Game Music and the Audio Mostly conference. The SSSMG has the aim of bringing together both practitioners and researchers from across the globe in order to develop the field’s understanding of sound and video game music and audio. Its focus is the use of its website as a “hub” for communication and resource centralisation, including a video game music research bibliography (a project initially begun by the Ludomusicology Research Group).

The Ludomusicology Society of Australia was launched by Barnabas Smith in April 2017, during the Ludo2017 conference in Bath, UK; it aims to “offer a centralised and local professional body nurturing game music studies for academics, people in industry and game music fans alike in the Australasian region.”

Composers

Creating and producing video game music requires strong teams and coordination among the different divisions of game development. As the market has expanded, so have the types of jobs in game music. The process often starts with the game designer, who will have a specific musical theme or genre in mind for the game. Their options include contracting original composers or licensing existing music, both of which require other music experts.

During the arcade and early console era (1983 to the mid 1990s), most game music was composed by full-time employees of the particular game company producing the game. This was largely due to the very specialized nature of video game music, where each system had its own technology and tool sets. It was not uncommon for a game company like Capcom or Konami to have a room full of composers, each at their own workstation with headphones writing music.

Once the CD-era hit and studio recorded music became more ubiquitous in games, it became increasingly common for game music to be composed by independent contractors, hired by the game developer on a per-project basis. Most bigger budget games such as Call of Duty, Mass Effect, Ghost Recon, or Lost Planet hire composers in this fashion. Approximately 50% of game composers are freelance, the remaining being employees of a game company. Original score and soundtrack may require the hiring of a Music Director, who will help create the game music as well as help book the resources needed for performing and recording the music.

Some music directors may work with a game’s Sound Designer to create a dynamic score. Notable exceptions include composer Koji Kondo, who remains an employee at Nintendo, and Martin O’Donnell, who worked at Bungie until early 2014.

The growth of casual, mobile and social games has greatly increased opportunities for game music composers, with job growth in the US market increasing more than 150% over five years. Independently developed games are a frequent place where beginning game composers gain experience composing for video games. Game composers, particularly for smaller games, are likely to provide other services such as sound design (76% of game composers also do some sound design), integration (47% of game composers also integrate their music into audio middleware), or even computer coding or scripting (15%).

With the rising use of licensed popular music in video games, job opportunities in game music has also come to include the role of a music supervisor. Music supervisors work on behalf of a game developer or game publisher to source pre-existing music from artists and music publishers. These supervisors can be hired on a per-project basis or can work in-house, like the Music Group for Electronic Arts (EA) that has a team of music supervisors. A music supervisor is needed to not only help select music that will suit the game, but to also ensure the music is fully licensed in order to avoid lawsuits or conflicts. Music supervisors may also help negotiate payment, which for artists and songwriters is often a one-time buy out fee, because games do not generate music royalties when they are sold.

A growing trend is to contract artists to write original songs for games, to add to their value and exclusivity, and once again supervisors can be a part of that process.

Fan culture

Video game fans have created their own fan sites “dedicated to the appreciation and promotion of video game music”, including OverClocked ReMix and Rainwave.

Fans also make their own song remixes and compilations, and have built online remixing communities through the ease of internet distribution.

Japanese dōjin music scene is notable for producing albums of arranged videogame music which derived from popular retro franchises such as Mega Man, Chrono Trigger or Final Fantasy, from dōjin games, such as Touhou Project, studio Key visual novels and When They Cry series, from popular franchises on Comiket, such as Type-Moon Fate series or Kantai Collection. There have been over six thousand dōjin albums of Touhou Project music released.

See also

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